Aleksey Markov, commander of the “Prizrak” battalion, was killed in the occupied area of the Luhansk region of Ukraine on Saturday 24 October.   The Morning Star has reported his death with the headline “Tributes paid after death of Ghost Brigade commander Alexey Markov in Donbass accident”.  The article by Steve Sweeney (25 October, 2020) hailed the Russian warlord Markov as a ‘socialist’ who commanded “ the anti-fascist international “Ghost Brigade”.   Markov became commander of this unit after his predecessor Alexander Kostin was “convicted” in the so-called “Luhansk Peoples Republic” for robbery, looting and shooting of a civilian car. He died in prison in May 2020.  As Stan Crooke writes below the truth is vastly different from the efforts to romanticise Markov and this unit as a version of the International Brigades.

Truth, Lies and the Morning Star on the death of Aleksey Markov

The article-cum-eulogy-cum-obituary on ‘Ghost Battalion’ commander Aleksey Markov which the Morning Star published last week was in a class of its own.

The Ghost Brigade (since 2015: Ghost Battalion) was one of a myriad of ‘local’ military units created in 2014 as a cover for Russian political and military intervention into eastern Ukraine after the overthrow of Ukrainian President Yanukovych.

Like other Stalinists around the world, the Morning Star has long portrayed the Ghost Brigade as a latter-day version of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War.

But this is contradicted by Markov’s own description of the Brigade’s creation: “We formed the Ghost Brigade with nationalist, monarchist and communist forces. We all agreed to insist on the need for people’s power.”

Wisely, Markov never attempted to explain how a monarchy can be reconciled with people’s power. Nor did he ever clarifiy which people the (Russian) nationalists think should (nominally) be in power in Ukraine. And now he is dead, we will never know.

Attempts by the Star to equate the Ghost Brigade with the International Brigades are also undermined by reasons given by members for having joined it: “I’m here to save the Russian people, to find my destiny and because I’m a man – all men like guns and adventure. It’s very different from my old life in the office.”

The Star showed the same disregard for facts in its portrayal of Markov himself.

According to last week’s article, “socialist Aleksey Markov” was “a convinced socialist and anti-fascist”. He was “an ordinary man” who felt that he had “no choice but to fight against the fascist forces in Ukraine’s Donbass region.” His death was “a huge loss to all progressive forces.”

The fascism which Markov was fighting, according to the article, was that of the post-Maidan Ukrainian government:

“Speaking to RMT activist Eddie Dempsey about the attack [on the Odessa Trade Union House in May of 2014], Mr. Markov said:

‘After the slaughter in Odessa, seeing that joyful inhuman crowd photographed against a backdrop of charred bodies, I realised that ‘fascism,’ which I had read about in books and seen in movies, was here in front of me. The choice was whether to sit in Moscow and Omsk and watch the neo-Nazis kill civilians or try to stop them. In fact, I had no choice.’”

This is a slightly but suitably dramatised version of something Markov said in an interview which the Star published over four years ago (13/03/16):

“After seeing the terrible scenes in Odessa of crowds cheering behind piles of charred bodies, I realised that fascism had been revived. As a Communist, I could not accept the fact that Nazis were again slaughtering innocent people, so I left my home and job in Moscow and went to fight in the Donbass.”

More importantly, it’s wrong. Markov did not leave Moscow (and/or Omsk) in May of 2014 as a spontaneous act of anti-fascist indignation. He left five months later because, and after, the Communist Parties in Russia and Ukraine had failed to initiate military units after the military clashes of mid-2014:

“During the summer battles of 2014 (in eastern Ukraine), we expected that one of the communist organisations of the Russian Federation or Novorossiya would create its own communist unit, which we could join.

Unfortunately, the communists in Novorossiya were disunited both militarily and organisationally. So we decided to create our own squad to go to defend the Donbass from the neo-Nazis. …

We had hoped for a time that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Communist Party of Ukraine or another similar force would create a unit of this type. We waited until October 2014 and then we realized we had to act ourselves.” 

This initial tardiness did not prevent the (Stalinist, nationalist and antisemitic) Russian Communist Party from becoming the Ghost Brigade’s principal sponsor. To quote another of Markov’s interviews studiously ignored by the Star:

“We have very good, close relations with the Russian Communist Party. Personally, Gennady Andreyevich Zyuganov (Russian CP leader) helped us repeatedly and very significantly. Kazbek Taysayev and Rodin (leading figures in Russian CP) help us.

In this regard, we have developed good, normal relations. Even so, we have always had good relations with the Communists, given that most of the command staff in the battle are Communists themselves, including me.”

The line “I went to Ukraine to fight Nazism” which Markov peddled to the willingly gullible Eddie Dempsey and the cynically gullible Morning Star – even though Markov could have fought fascists on the streets by remaining in Moscow (and/or Omsk) – has certainly been a theme of Markov’s interviews over the years:

– “The fascists have taken power in Kiev. Any attempt to demonstrate that there is no fascism in Ukraine is a joke. … Our goal is to help the Ukrainian people to free themselves from the Nazi military junta in Kiev which has usurped power.”

– “Ukraine is now building an openly Nazi state. Although it now looks like a parody of the Third Reich, they’re really killing people. In the Third Reich it was the Jews, the Bolsheviks. The current Nazis have the Communists, the Russians.”

In a particularly touching interview in 2015 Markov explained that he could never tell members of the Ghost Brigade to stop fighting because it would be tantamount to telling them that “your children will become Banderists.”

(In the same interview Markov said that “about half the boys (in the Ghost Brigade) have their houses in Ukrainian-occupied land.” By “Ukrainian-occupied land” Markov meant: Ukraine.)

But the ‘Ukraine is a Nazi state’ line was a straight lift from Putin’s propaganda war. This has used the label of ‘Ukrainian Nazism’ and the slogan of ‘anti-fascism’ as a cover for Russian expansionism, first in Crimea and then in eastern Ukraine.

Given the enthusiasm with which the Morning Star has repeated Putin’s propaganda, it was inevitable that it would give the late Markov’s avowed ‘anti-fascism’ a clean bill of health. Even though Markov himself had explicitly endorsed Putin’s expansionist goals:

“The ideal outcome, of course, would be the unification of the Donbass with the Russian Federation. Even better would be the liberation of the territory of Ukraine, our fraternal Ukraine, even if only along the Dnieper [i.e. as far as central Ukraine] and the creation of an independent state friendly towards Russia.”

But the article in the Star did manage to get one fact right: “He died in a car accident in Ukraine’s breakaway Lugansk on Saturday.”

Markov’s accidental death distinguishes him from other separatist military and political leaders in Lugansk and Donetsk who have been wiped out in recent years in the process of the early leaders of the fake ‘popular uprising’ being replaced by more Moscow-compliant elements:

Oleksandr Bednov (shot dead, January 2015);

Aleksey Mozgovoy (shot and blown up, May 2015);

Pavel Dryomov (blown up, December 2015);

Arsen Pavlov (blown up, October 2016);

Mikhail Tolstykh (blown up, February 2017);

Oleg Anashchenko (blown up, February 2017);

Alexander Zakharchenko (blown up, August 2018).

Had Markov lived on, he too could have met the fate of being another useful idiot eliminated by the Kremlin after having served his purpose. Instead, he ended up as just another traffic fatality in the statistics of the ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’, and a space-filler in the pages of the Morning Star.